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He thought about all the times he hadn’t told Jules he loved her.
He could almost see them all, lined up like issues of a comic neatly arranged on his childhood room's shelves - or wrapped in cellophane like those creepy convention nerds do, to preserve them and prevent wrinkles. He could see them all as his feet caught on rocks and roots and snow, and Canada’s fiercest storm howls around him like a dying wolf, loud enough to shake the ground.
The first time had been somewhere in the third year of their nonsensical, amazing circus of a collaboration - and it has been stupid, he could admit that. He had just escaped Yang's claws, although the claws still seemed to be there, sunk in his flesh like meat hooks in a pig. Jules was standing in front of him, all dressed in red, hands clasped in front of her, eyes too big and scared for that makeup. He was carrying a cardboard tray with non-buttered popcorns and Cokes and had the sweetest girl in the world waiting outside the cinema door. The sweetest girl in the world - but not the fiercest. Not the brightest. Not the bones-shattering, teeth-rattling flame blazing two steps from him, the very sun of Santa Barbara coalesced in human form behind those big and scared eyes.
Juliet had asked him if he wanted to see the movie with her and he had opened his mouth to say he couldn't - and just like that, he had been one inch from saying it. I love you Jules. I think I've loved you for a long time - no, no better, that something in me knew I would fall in love with you. Little things. Details. I'm good at details, at clues, you know it - we're both good at clues. And I’ve seen them. I see them now. I love you, Juliet O'Hara. He had been one inch from saying it – the stretch of flesh between two fingers, the space before pulling a trigger. But he hadn’t – he hadn’t, of course. In the ass-cold Abigail had shifted on her feet, cursed softly when she hit a car and sent the alarm wailing desperately in the night. It had been kind of adorable. It had been enough. Shawn Spencer had remembered, smiled a tight, stretched smile, and tried to do the Adult Thing to do once in his life.
One summer afternoon, at his father’s barbecue party, the house swarming with cops and ex-cops in colorful civilian clothes - those slightly disturbing occasions when his Dad decided to act like the whole world didn’t annoy him. She had been standing at the end of the corridor talking with Lassiter, her lace skirt swirling and brushing her knees everytime she moved, head bent back in laughter. He had leant forward before thinking it, half-peeled potato forgotten in his hands. He had thought about getting up and going there and picking her up and kissing her, just like that, like in old-fashioned romantic comedies. Henry saw it. Don’t’ mess her up, kid. I don’t want to. You don’t want to but you will – there’s your secret Shawn, there are things to fix first, remember? Then what Dad. Then wait. If you don’t wanna hurt her, wait. Shawn had watched her laugh again, slap Lassie’s shoulder as he covered whatever gruesome joke they had just shared with a sip from his beer. I’ll wait.
Once it had been Lassie himself to talk – it had been strange as Hell, weirdly fitting at the same time. They had been at the Welcome Back party for Jules after she’d come back after the Yin fiasco – all her boys, Lassiter and Gus and Buzz and Shawn staying on her side, content to bask in the feeling that the world was spinning right once again. Shawn hadn’t even realized he was staring at Jules – clad in sharp new suit, sharp heels, sharp smile, a study in tight lines and polished surfaces like a diamond – until she had waved at him and he waved back, awkwardly. He had felt a prickle on the back of his neck and turned his head, and found Lassiter’s blue eyes fixed on him. He had prevented Shawn from sputtering any dumb joke. That’s not the time, Spencer. Time for what Lassie? You know damn well. Don’t make a mess of this. He had cast a glance towards the rest of the room, towards the blonde diamond shining in the middle. Please.
Shawn had been speechless. Lassie’s voice had been soft, gentle – painfully, shockingly stripped of armors. It had been so sincere in the fear of the pain Shawn could cause, and that had hurt, but was also true, and so he had promised the only other man to love Jules as deeply as he did that no, he would not make a mess of it.
The last time had been less dramatic, but harder in a way. It had sneaked on him. It had caught him off guard. They were lazing around in the PD, annoying Lassie and flirting harmlessly with the new, cute rookies under Buzz’s forgetful watch, when she came in with a scowl worthy of her partner and a broken plump in her hand. She had marched to the bathroom without a word. Shawn had followed her, earning a scowl from behind Lassiter's coffee mug, a grunt from her - half-compliance and half-indifference. She slammed the door behind her, but he breezed past, hoped no girl would shriek her head off upon seeing his offensive male person and watched as Juliet slammed the plump on the sink counter with a string of curses. She cursed like she talked when in detective mode, like she took aim and shot - firm and clean and deadly effective. She rummaged in the purse as he leant casually against the tiled wall.
"Tough day, mh?"
"An idiot ambushed me and McNab on our way from the meth lab," she grunted. She had pulled something from the purse, was adjusting her hair in the mirror. Her back drew a curve in the glass, sweet, taut like a well-kept bow, ready to strike. "Gotta wrap up the Maroni case. Thought he could mug the cops, have his petty revenge. Got handcuffs on before he could say "chick" but broke my heel." A sigh, head bowed - golden curls bobbing gently around her ears, the pale, pink lipstick glinting softly in the ugliest neon lights of Northern Hemisphere. "Damn asshole. I liked the pair. I liked it a lot. And got no spare pair of course."
She took a long, steadying breath and turned, sharply, picking up the plump and the small stick she got from her purse: Elmer’s Glue All. He wondered why she kept a stick of Elmer’s Glue in her purse - her own paranoia or Lassie's, or both. It made him smile. On the contrary, it made him catch his breath to see her there, hopping on the counter with a cat’s bristle elegance - bending a slender, stocking-wrapped leg over the other, face pinched in concentration, struggling with glue and fallen heel and shoe. He stood there with his jaw hanging open, wonderstruck like a child. It was so natural to glide forward, then, to reach out wordlessly, helping her push the freshly-glued heel against the black satin of the plump - their fingers brushing for the slightest moment, for less than the time it would take to mutter her name. It was there he thought it would be so easy. So easy to whisper , Jules, my God, I Think I'm in love with you. I'm in love with you.
Then someone knocked on the door. Declan's voice - asking what was going on, shaping words with the perfectly male lips kissing Jules good morning, and Shawn stepped back with grace and shut the Hell up.
My God, he saw them so clearly in his head. He saw them all in such a bright technicolor - so untouched, so perfectly-preserved those plastic-wrapped comics he almost didn’t feel the pain. Or the fear. A gust of hoarfrost and wind knocked the air out of his lungs and brutally relocated him on actual Earth. He blinked hard a couple of times, chasing flickers of fire and memory, the curve of a back reflected in a mirror, then he was operative again. Yeah, right. The forest. The cold.
The storm had raged since half an hour after Desperaux dropped them in the exact middle of nowhere and rode off in the sunset with their car and their things and their phones. It was a wicked, scary thing, just like Santa Barbara's tropical downpours - but this one colder and longer and ten times more frightening because they were alone in Canadian wilderness. Trees started shaking. They stopped bickering, and that had always been always a sort of bad omen, a fancy carboard invitation for tragedy. The evening sky was suddenly ablaze with rain and clouds and bolts. He and Gus started running. He thought he’d seen a light, deep in the woods, ignored Gus’s call behind him, feet stomping on dead leaves and treacherous earth, racing forward - they lost each other. What a terrible way to put it, "losing each other" - makes you think of necrologies, tear-jerking sappy Hallmark movies with the dead spouse trope. It'd be better - Shawn thought, faltering a bit on a sharp rock, a gust of icy wind his sun-soaked skin was not ready for - it'd be better something more technical, plainer, like "played an extremely-long session of hide and seek" or "followed different strategies." “Momentarily lost contact.” “Communications in stand-by.” Gosh he started to sound like Spock, but that makes no sense - ‘cause Gus was his Spock, everybody could see that, always been, always will.
Shawn blinked again, feeling his mind trying to slip away – itching, begging to slip away, far away, in lands with no cold no storms and blond-haired Juliets brushing his hair and telling him everything is all right – and he clenched his teeth to the point of pain to prevent it. The voice of conscience, Lassiter’s voice, provided a word, made it deflagrate in Shawn’s skull like a bullet – facts. He took a breath, held on it. Semantics aside, facts remained: he was alone, walking in an unknown direction, and his best friend was nowhere in sight. Shawn was appalled at it; a bit offended, too. Never believed in Murphy's laws. Not applied to himself - he was too light, too slick, like mint-scented soap, not enough substance to attract the laws of material world. Those things were meant to happen to guys like Lassie, the Chief, his dad. Secretly, he thought it was because they would always be able to face them.
He tried to call him - again. His voice felt very small and cracked in the howls of dying wolves around him, but it was worth a try. He kept trudging on. He kept calling. Around him were white spheres of sleet, angrily whirling against his cheeks, slashing through the stylish denim jacket, and then trees and trees and more trees. There was so much water, God, so much stone and wind here. The road was lost, much like Gus, more than Gus. He was losing, too - faster and faster. He thought about Gus being alone out there, with his alphabetically listed phobias and his four hundred bucks shoes, dying of fear and still not leaving until he found him, and felt like throwing up. Oh, Gus, I'm sorry - I'm always sorry and I mean it every time and that's the tragic thing. And now we'll die. Die like this, not on a motorboat dashing through the waves in pursuit of dolphin-cubs-snatchers - that’s a case I’d like to see-, not on the other end of a madman’s gun, not watching you in the eye, standing by your side till the lights went off. I’ll die of cold and stone and wind. You'll die. Oh God, Gus.
Oh God, Jules.
He called out, again, breathing in to prevent the tears - even if air here hurt and burnt his lungs with cold. Because the juicy bit was that all those heartfelt attempts, all those words he had had to torn off his heart strings, one by one like vines on a gate, fearful, quivering, tender from disuse, now were in Buzz McNab’s hands. The closest thing to a declaration he would ever give to Jules was scribbled on a yellow-post it, pinned on McNab’s laptop by his wife’s photo and his puppies-themed desktop. Confusing. Half-baked. Incomprehensible without its author, like a lost war code, and when she’d come back from Italy and he’d be gone for good that message would bring nothing but a wave of pity, a soft shake of her world – exactly what his father feared, exactly what he promised Lassie not to do.
Shawn forced in a breath, wheezing. Walking was getting harder already. One step, two - to find Gus, not to die of cold, to go out without feeling like a complete asshole. One step, two. His mind waved back images, warm silly things, and he didn’t fight it anymore. First grade, him and Gus eating lunch, twin backpacks with the Terminator pins fixed on the front. Three steps, four. Legs heavy, coughing - air spreading in his chest like frozen gasoline. A cup of coffee in his hands, his Dad's back, preparing dinner. Five. Juliet, Juliet and Lassie, talking cases with their head close and bent over the files, his fearless warriors. Jules. I never told you, never. I.
It happened so fast he didn’t feel it coming. He thought he had simply slipped - he'd felt the rock impacting his foot, the laces of his All Stars getting entwined viciously with it, his body stumbling, but didn't linger much on it. It took a whole five seconds to feel that he was not regaining his footing. That his body was still pitching forward, pulled by gravity, and that beneath him there was no ground the sickening feeling of falling. He reached out, desperately, found nothing - snowflakes and wind, pushing silently through his fingers. Ah. Shawn Spencer opened his mouth, much like that night with Yang's claws in the flesh and Juliet smiling in the eyes, and tried to scream but there was not time. There was falling, through air - down a slope, his brain offered in a stupor - hitting the first rocks, the world a grey-brown whirl flashing through half-closed eyelids. The impact was painful. Shawn felt the crack deep in his bones, the chest caving in like a bag of chips, the rattle coursing all the way up to his teeth. His mouth was still open, silent. No oxygen. He kept falling, bouncing, another rock, earth in his mouth, a burning on the cheek on the forehead on the knee – it hurt enough to wail, enough to sob like a child - and stop make it stop please please. Shawn cried in his head. Curled in a ball, around his tender, precious human body, against the wind and the rocks, but was useless. The rocks still got him. A sharp pain in the ribs, again, the crack the exact sound of bags of chips popped open between hands, and then he was mid-air again, weightless, before final impact. Shawn landed like a rocket – hard and fast, a thunder of failing engines rising in his ears. He hit his head. Rush of nausea, sight grey at the edges, wavering. The wind was howling above him, didn't seem important. Something warm trickled by his ear. Bad. Grey sky.
Oh, Gus. Las. Dad.
Shawn Spencer felt his knee bending in a way it shouldn’t again the bed of dead leaves, closed his eyes and thought about his plastic-wrapped regrets, neatly arranged on the shelves of his mind. He felt like crying in rage.
Oh Jules, I should have told you.